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OBITUARIES / Ozzie Cadena, 1924 - 2008

Savoy Records producer recorded jazz legends

April 12, 2008|Jocelyn Y. Stewart | Times Staff Writer

Ozzie cadena, a producer for the famed Savoy Records who played a key role in recording a long list of jazz luminaries and later led an effort to commemorate the role of Hermosa Beach in the history of West Coast jazz, has died. He was 83.

Cadena, who suffered a stroke last year, died of pneumonia Wednesday at Little Company of Mary Hospital in Torrance, said his daughter, Lori Cadena.

The height of his career in recording came during the 1950s and '60s, but Cadena later owned record stores and booked acts for several clubs in Southern California -- including the legendary Lighthouse Cafe and the Sangria restaurant in Hermosa Beach -- a role he continued to play until shortly before his death.

"I think Ozzie must have lived and breathed jazz every day of his life," said jazz writer Don Heckman. "He obviously had an impact via his production work for Savoy. . . . But his biggest contribution was the love and support of jazz that impacted everyone who knew or had any contact with him."

Born Oscar Cadena on Sept. 26, 1924, in Oklahoma City, Cadena moved with his family to Newark, N.J., where he spent his childhood. As a kid, he shined shoes on the street and made weekly trips to Harlem to hear music. His love for music also led him to regularly visit African American churches.

After graduating from high school, Cadena enlisted in the Marines and served from 1941 to 1945 in the South Pacific. After the war, he studied bass and piano at a music school in New York.

In the early 1950s, Cadena was working with a jazz radio show in Newark when the owner of Savoy hired him. Savoy Records has a storied role in jazz history. The label was the early recording home of Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie.

The owner of Savoy was a businessman with a spotty reputation among musicians, who thought his contracts were unfair.

Cadena took a philosophic view: "Whether you like the cat or not, at least he made the music available," Cadena said in a 2002 article in Newark's Star-Ledger.

At Savoy from 1951 to 1959, Cadena was responsible for the early recordings of Cal Tjader, McCoy Tyner, Bill Evans, Donald Byrd, Cannonball and Nat Adderley, and many others, according to his resume.

He also recorded or produced Kenny Clarke, Gillespie, Davis, Fats Navarro, John Coltrane and Charles Mingus.

"I was able to coordinate all these great talents, hear them make marvelous music," he said in the Star-Ledger article.

He recorded vocalists Little Jimmy Scott, Esther Phillips and John Lee Hooker. Cadena also played a key role in the careers of artists working in other genres. In the world of gospel, he recorded Clara Ward, James Cleveland and a group that included Cissy Houston, the mother of Whitney Houston.

After leaving Savoy, Cadena worked for other labels, including Prestige, Blue Note, and Fantasy Records. In 1974 he and his family relocated to Hermosa Beach, which he began visiting in the late 1940s.

"It was such a perfect place," he said in a 2005 issue of South Bay People magazine. "I could have the beach and the sunshine by day and jazz during the night."

In Southern California he promoted jazz and booked talent at such clubs as the Hyatt on Sunset. Since the '70s he had promoted jazz and become involved with the Lighthouse, a club that is renowned for its role in the birth of West Coast jazz. In 2000 he began organizing free concerts on the plaza in Hermosa Beach every Wednesday. He also led the effort to place plaques on the city's Pier Avenue Plaza honoring the Lighthouse and the musicians who played there.

In addition to his daughter, Cadena is survived by his wife, Gloria, of Redondo Beach; two sons, Pru of Madison, N.J., and Dez of Newark, who is a member of the punk band the Misfits; two grandsons, Kyle and Bret Cadena of Madison, N.J.; and two sisters, Victoria Shear and Beatrice Festagallo of Union, N.J. A daughter, Janus Cadena, died in 1959.

Services are private. A public tribute is to be announced at a later date.

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jocelyn.stewart@latimes.com

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